Three Stooges: Making Them Laugh Since 1934

The Three Stooges in 1938. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
The Three Stooges in 1938. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1934, the first Three Stooges short film was released.

Here are some things you may not have known about the classic comedy trio.

The Stooges started out as part of a vaudeville act called “Ted Healy and His Stooges.” The act consisted of Healy telling jokes and the others interrupting him, which would result in Healy verbally and physically assaulting them in retaliation. The group appeared in the 1930 film “Soup to Nuts,” which was not well-received. However, the Three Stooges’ performance was singled out as a high point.

Moe Howard, his brother Shemp, along with Larry Fine, left Healy to form their own act. Healy retaliated with legal action, claiming that they were performing his copyrighted material. They reunited with Healy and made 15 films before separating for good. During that time, Shemp left the group to be replaced by his younger brother Jerry, soon to be known as Curly.

With the lineup of Larry, Moe and Curly, the Stooges made 97 films between 1934 and 1947. The act was forced into a temporary hiatus when Curly suffered a stroke on the set of “Half-Wits Holiday.”

Hoping for Curly to recover, Shemp rejoined the act on, what was at first, a temporary basis. However Curly’s health never recovered and he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1952. He was 48. Shemp, who had a successful solo career, stayed with the act until 1955, when he died of a heart attack at the age of 60.

At the time, the Stooges owed Columbia Pictures four films with Shemp. They fulfilled the contract by using stock footage and a stand-in filmed from behind or with a covered face. Filmmaker Sam Raimi later coined the term “Fake Shemp” for this technique.

Shemp was replaced by Joe Besser for two years before the Stooges were fired by Columbia in 1957.

At this point, the Stooges’ catalog of films was sold to television, where the short films proved to be a major hit. By 1959, all 190 shorts were in broadcast rotation and the act, now featuring Joe DeRita as the third stooge, was in high demand.

They made six feature-length movies between 1959 and 1965 with DeRita as Curly Joe. They also made appearances in other films, a television series pilot and an animated series.

During the production of a 1969 television pilot, Larry Fine suffered a stroke, which him paralyzed. He died following another stroke in January 1975. Moe Howard was diagnosed with lung cancer and died in May 1975. Joe Besser died in 1988 and Joe DeRita died in 1993.

In most of the world, the Three Stooges are known by their English name, but in some countries their name is translated. According to Wikipedia, in Japan they are known as “The Three Idiot Generals;” in Spanish, they’re called “The Three Crackpots;” and in China they are called ‘The Three Smelly Shoemakers.”

Our question: What were Larry, Moe and Shemp’s real first names?

Today is Cinco de Mayo, celebrating the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla. It’s also Children’s Day in Japan and South Korea.

It’s Cartoonists Day, National Hoagie Day and National Day of Prayer.

It’s the birthday of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, born in 1813; journalist Nellie Bly, born in 1864; chef James Beard, born in 1903; and singer Adele, who is 28 today.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1976, the top song in the U.S. was “Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers.

The No. 1 movie was “All the President’s Men,” while the novel “1876” by Gore Vidal topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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